The House of Lords
The Centre's Evidence to the Commission
PART 10: Nomination, indirect election and lottery.
We urge the commission to avoid any recommendation that would give merit to the term, coined in readiness for the reformed chamber, "super-quango."
We have made the case for direct popular earlier in this document. None of the alternative options that we now consider provide for the accountability that popular election entails. And other objections may be added.
It is possible that nomination of members might allow the hand-crafting of a chamber that in one sense might be more representative of Britain than an elected chamber. The membership cold be in proportion to the numbers of women, men, black, white etc. people in the population. But so complex is the mix of affiliations, loyalties, origins, interests, occupations, skills and so on, that it is certain that such a "bean counting" exercise would produce nothing more than a comic book reflection of reality. It is certain also that great dissatisfaction would be felt by those who believed that although there were persons representing their "interest" they were not doing so in the way they would like. But expression of that dissatisfaction through the democratic processes would not be possible. Frustration with and alienation from our democratic institutions would not be lessened.
It is likely, moreover, that a nominated chamber would in practice be to a large extent self-selected. The government refers in the White Paper to "individuals of distinction" being suitable for seats in the Senate. "Merit" has also been suggested as a criterion for appointment. Of course any Senator would by definition become an individual of distinction. But the proposition that those who have already achieved distinction should have privileged access to the Senate is disturbing. "Merit" is, moreover, a rather subjective judgement. Relatively few people are likely to have the self-confidence or the freedom to make the commitment that would be required of them. Although perhaps rather more diverse than the House of Lords, such a chamber is likely to be composed to a large extent of persons who have already succeeded in other fields and have the time and inclination to serve in this way. Such persons are certainly not to be faulted for their willingness to serve and no doubt many would contribute ably to our governance. But it is not likely that the majority of the electorate would easily recognise them as actors on their behalf. That majority would certainly not be free to express any disappointment with these legislators in a democratic spirit.
Thus although debates in the Senate might benefit from a wider range of perspectives than election could guarantee, it is not certain that they would result in legislation that had the consent of the majority.
The filling of seats by nomination would leave control out of the hands of the majority of citizens. It would smack of some having two votes, while others had one. We should have learnt the dangers of that from the history of Northern Ireland.
Nomination by the executive would, of course, seriously undermine the role to the Senate as a check on executive abuses. And any system of nomination is likely to cause the suspicion of favouritism. If nominees were subject to independent vetting questions would nevertheless be asked as to how one person came to be nominated, or to be on the initial list of nominees, and not another.
To permit the appointment of members of the chamber by other bodies, or "functional constituencies," such as professional associations or trade unions would be to discriminate against those who did not belong to any such group. One must ask why, for example, a property lawyer might be represented but not a licensed conveyancer? Why a trade union member and not a person who had retired or was unemployed? The example of Ireland, where graduates of the ancient universities are permitted a second vote which is denied to many others, is not at all helpful. Every group could not be represented and inequities would multiply. Some lucky citizens would find that more than one institution to which they were affiliated had a right of representation in the Senate. Others would be entirely without such representation. Some citizens would feel that their interests were represented in both chambers. Others would possible feel represented in neither, if the party they supported was in a minority in the Commons and they belonged to no interest group represented in the Senate. A bureaucratic regulatory regime might be required to ensure that such organisations chose their representatives in a fair manner.